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Review: Knock at the Cabin

February 22, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film from M. Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin is an adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World. Shyamalan has crafted the material into a solid chamber piece thriller that is infused with Biblical allegories, and builds tension by setting up an impossible moral dilemma with no easy answers and potentially catastrophic consequences.

The film opens with a little girl, Wen (Kristen Cui), collecting grasshoppers in the woods, when she is approached by a strange man who introduces himself as Leonard (Dave Bautista). Wen is on vacation at an isolated cabin in the woods with her two fathers, Eric (Ben Aldridge) and Andrew (Jonathan Groff), and Leonard tells her that he has some very important business to discuss with them.

Leonard is there with three other people, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint), who are all armed with a variety of weapons and take the family hostage. These four strangers have come with an impossible proposition; they have each had visions of the coming apocalypse, and believe the world will end unless a sacrifice is made.

It’s a classic moral quandary; kill one person and save countless others, or save one person but cause an untold number of deaths? Yes, the film is essentially a riff on the theoretical “trolley problem,” a thought experiment that exists at the heart of both philosophy and ethics, but it’s a very effective one. Shyamalan is a filmmaker who (in his best work) knows how to build suspense and raise the emotional stakes, but he is also genuinely interested in grappling with these deeper questions of morality.

At first, Shyamalan fills us with doubt. Are these four people really prophets here to stave off the coming apocalypse, or are they religious zealots engaged in a shared delusion? Were they really guided to the cabin by their visions, or is it a targeted home invasion? Then, after a somewhat rushed start, he steadily ratchets up the tension to an increasingly high degree, as the characters are forced to contend with what they really believe as the proverbial clock ticks down.

The majority of the film takes place in the cabin, but Shyamalan uses the confined setting as an asset to establish a sense of claustrophobia (those grasshoppers being put in a jar at the beginning serve as a pretty cool allegory), with glimpses of the outside world shown on TV. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer is always interesting, including some compelling blocking and framing choices. In the opening scene, the camera cuts back and forth between tight closeups on Leonard and Wen’s faces, the angles growing increasingly tilted with each cut to signal that something is off.

The committed performances by the small ensemble cast are also key to the film’s success. Aldridge and Groff are compelling as a couple trying to balance their love for each other in the face of this sinister threat. Bautista delivers a very strong dramatic performance that carries a quiet intensity, playing a man who we sense is genuinely haunted by whatever visions he has seen, regardless of whether or not they are real. For his part, Grint delivers gripping work that couldn’t be more different from his role in the Harry Potter movies.

This is a bleak, gripping, thought-provoking film. Shyamalan has crafted a quasi-religious movie that plays into big, apocalyptic themes about belief and the weight of individual choices, but also explores more intimate questions of scrupulosity and homophobia (both internalized and externalized). Some will reflexively reject where the story ends up, though I found it strangely moving on a spiritual level.

Knock at the Cabin is now playing in theatres, and is also available to watch on PVOD.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 22, 2023 9:02 pm

    I thought that this movie was just okay. It had a few intense moments, and the acting was good, but everything just felt a little bit mundane for the director. It wasn’t the worst movie of his collection, but I was sort of letdown, especially since I was expecting a some big twist at the end.


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